For every Chelsea fan reading this who’s still feeling bitter about what happened on Sunday, you are hereby absolved of all shame. For any non-Chelsea fan reading this, don’t get us wrong, we can accept a referee costing us points – we aren’t oblivious to the fact it happens to every football team and to hundreds of sides every day around the world. But, for us to have played and fought back so brilliantly after a poor start, getting into a position where we could’ve easily won the game, and then to have that opportunity taken away by such a remarkable display of incompetency, was a very difficult pill to swallow. At this level, frankly it was piss taking.
Even without considering the major incidents, Mark Clattenburg’s performance this weekend was undeniably awful. Moments of impetuousness occurred without reprimand, tactical fouls went unpunished and wrong decisions were constantly made regarding whether or not to allow an advantage. The game was discontinuous, without rhythm and in parts not good to watch, and with the amount of quality there was on the pitch I think that’s really saying something.
Considering Chelsea’s two red cards, firstly I thought Ivanovic’s was very unlucky but probably fair. He certainly didn’t intend to clip Ashley Young, and perhaps had he not clipped a player whose centre gravity it seems is somewhere between his scalp and eyebrows, no foul would’ve been given. One could also argue, Ashley Young on his left foot from 18 yards against Petr Cech, is far from a clear goal-scoring opportunity. It was a contentious decision no doubt, but ultimately understandable.
The 2nd red card however was not. In my opinion what Jonny Evans did was so ridiculously amateur – he should be ashamed. Falling into a two footed tackle after being nutmegged, what does he think is going to happen? What could possibly happen other than he gets jumped over or snaps someone’s ankle? For me the fact that he did kick Torres is irrelevant. The tackle was so poor and dangerous; he should’ve been at least booked regardless, whilst Torres had every right to go down. In terms of fouls on Chelsea players that have gone unpunished, it’s second only to Dani Alves pulling down Malouda by his neck in that UCL semi-final – and that’s determined using my own self-constructed scale of outrageousness.
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Clattenburg’s performance didn’t end at the final whistle, and now the club finds itself involved in another scandal, defending two of our players (Mata and Mikel) who allegedly were abused by the referee during the game. I’ll admit now before Sunday I’d never held any negative feelings towards Clattenburg – I wasn’t disappointed when I saw he was the referee. However, after doing some research it seems if these allegations are true then it wouldn’t exactly be out of character, given past accusations of gambling, domestic violence and drug taking. At this moment though, I’m not passing any judgement on what might have been said and nor should anyone until the facts are known. However, the opinion shared by Neil Warnock on TalkSport today, that Chelsea should be punished if their claims are proved false, I found quite ridiculous. The club has an obligation to defend its player’s interests and there is never any excuse for an official to abuse to player – I think it’s a cowardly abuse of power.
Re-focusing back onto the football, it’s clear that the referees were not 100% to blame for our defeat. Obviously at the beginning and in other periods, I thought our play was really poor. I’ve seen a few suggestions on this blog and around the web about what our main issues have been so far this season and how we could improve. I’ll give my thoughts on two of the more common criticisms:
1) The Mentality of Di Matteo and His Team: Quite simply, I absolutely resent the notion that Di Matteo is anything but a winner and it frustrates me that some supporters see our manager’s calmness and composure in the press room and on the touchline as indifference or a lack of passion. To me it seems clear that he understands perfectly and is very proud of Chelsea’s winning tradition, and our comeback to 2-2 on Sunday is proof how his desire to continue that tradition is rubbing off on our new signings. I’m not denying at all that the loss of Drogba and his ability to elevate his game and the rest of the team when things aren’t going great could well be severe. However a lack of winning mentality in this current Chelsea team, is something I’m adamant is not an issue.
2) Certain Players Letting the Side Down: Like most fans here, I’m concerned at the lack of depth and competition for places in this side – for a team competing in 5 competitions, 20 outfield players isn’t very many. However, I’m very much against the targeting of certain players, mainly Ivanovic, Mikel and Torres, and attributing to them large portions of blame for the failings of the team. Personally I think Mikel and Ivanovic are two of our better players anyway but still, to pick out certain weaker players, declare them as the problem and then suggest replacing them as a solution, I think is a very lazy analysis of the situation. Every team in the world has stronger and weaker areas, no matter how much money they spend on players. The entire point of tactics is to compensate for these ‘weaknesses’ and to take full advantage of your strengths. Anybody suggesting that certain experienced and established first team Chelsea players should be dropped because they don’t seem measure up to the standard of our new signings, I think is being very unrealistic and impractical in their criticisms of the team.
For me the one clear issue with this team and the reason we continue to concede soft goals is simply a lack of familiarity with this attacking 4-2-3-1 system. It’s plainly a difficult formation to employ in terms of how it demands such concentration and hard-work from every player – I think it also demands numerous players to adapt and improve their game in ways which they may not have anticipated. For all their talent and flair, the use of our three attacking playmakers all at once does give us some defensive issues. Particularly with Eden Hazard, the Belgian wonders so easily that he is often in no position at all to help Ashley Cole defend the left flank. Already, we’ve conceded more than once as a direct result of Cole being outnumbered in that area.
I think that is just one example of a number of problems we currently have that aren’t necessarily fundamental flaws with the system so much as just teething problems – difficulties we could’ve only expected to occur with such young new signings and such a radical change of methods.
Finally, looking ahead to tomorrow’s rematch against Utd I think it’s safe to say this game now means a lot more to Chelsea fans than it did before Sunday. We want some revenge and I’m backing us to get some. With all their defensive issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if Utd fielded an entire 2nd string back line, I doubt also either Rooney or Van Persie will start the game. We on the other hand don’t have quite so much room to rotate the squad, which is why I think we’ll comfortably put out a stronger team on paper and hopefully in practice as well. This is the XI I think we’ll start with: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Cahill, David Luiz, Bertrand, Romeu, Ramires, Moses, Piazon, Marin (hopefully) and Sturridge. As line-ups go, it’s young, very quick and full of players vying for regular first team places and I think it’ll see us through to the quarters.
Until then, chin up geezers! We’ll get our lucky breaks at some point. And here’s hoping Utd get screwed themselves sometime in the near future.